Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 November 2017
Conventionally perennial ryegrass evaluations are conducted under simulated grazing studies to identify varieties with the best phenotypic performance. However, cut-plot environments differ greatly to those experienced on commercial farms as varieties are not exposed to the same stress levels in test environments. It could be argued that plot-based testing regimes provide little direction to plant breeders in the development of advanced varieties. Varietal phenotypic performance needs to be quantified in ‘commercial’ situations. The objective of the current study was to evaluate the phenotypic performance of a range of perennial ryegrass varieties under commercial farm conditions. Monocultures of 11 Irish Recommended List perennial ryegrass varieties were sown on 66 commercial farms throughout Ireland where performance was evaluated over a 3-year period from 2013 to 2015, inclusive. A linear mixed model was used to quantify variety effects on grassland phenotypic performance characteristics. No significant variety effect was estimated for total, seasonal or silage herbage production. Despite the lack of variety effects, pairwise comparisons found significant performance differences between individual varieties. Grazed herbage yield is of primary importance and was shown to be correlated strongly with total production (0.71); Grazed herbage yield differed significantly by variety, with a range of 1927 kg dry matter (DM)/ha between the highest and lowest performing varieties. Sward quality (dry matter digestibility [DMD]) and density were influenced by variety with a range of 44 g/kg DM for DMD and 0.7 ground score units between the highest and lowest performing varieties. Results of the current study show that on-farm evaluation is effective in identifying the most suitable varieties for intensive grazing regimes, and the phenotypic variance identified among varieties performance for many traits should allow for improved genetic gain in areas such as DM production, persistence and grazing efficiency.
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